2021 MBAs To Watch: Aria Aaron, USC (Marshall)

Aria Aaron

University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business

I am an art-loving concert connoisseur who lives by faith and servant leadership.”

Hometown: Nashville, TN

Fun fact about yourself: I used to model when I was a toddler, and I was featured in a Monday Night Football opening with Amy Grant singing “Baby, Baby” in 1993 (it is on YouTube).

Undergraduate School and Degree:  Florida A&M University – B.S. in Journalism; Wake Forest University – M.S. in Management

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Georgia-Pacific LLC, Associate Brand Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Facebook, Partner Management Intern (remote internship)

Where will you be working after graduation? I am currently still recruiting in the entertainment tech space.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

First Place, John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition (2021)

Dean’s List (2021)

Consortium Fellow and Forte Fellow (2019)

President, Black Graduate Business Leaders affinity club (2020-Present)

Consortium Liaison (2020-Present)

MBA Ambassador (2019-Present)

Associate Vice President of Marketing, Business of Entertainment Association (2019-2020)

Chief of Staff, Black Graduate Business Leaders (2019-2020)

Associate Vice President of Team PrimeTime, Challenge 4 Charity and Team PrimeTime mentor (2019-2020)

Alumni Partnerships Manager, the Entertainment Industry College Outreach Program (2019-Present) [volunteer for local non-profit that runs the HBCU in LA summer program which gives students of Historically Black Colleges and Universities the ability to intern within the entertainment and media industry during the summer; I work with alumni chapters to build partnerships]

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of winning First Place in the John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition, hands down. Being able to work alongside some of my closest friends on a social issue like underrepresentation of Black women in STEM careers was the highlight of my journey. We created recommendations we know will have immense impact if implemented, and that is the reason I came to business school – to create impact. Additionally, this is the first case competition of its kind, so winning it the first time is a great feeling. Most importantly to me though, being able to honor such a giant as Congressman Lewis is life-changing for me. It helps me understand that I have the power to effect change just like he did.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My greatest professional achievement came in 2016, when the Angel Soft brand team was given the Georgia-Pacific Brand Building Award for Brand of the Year. It meant the most because it was recognition from our peers who saw the work we were putting in to really build the Angel Soft brand. Up until that point, I felt like I played a small part in building the brand. However, winning that award taught me that my part is really significant. It was a turning point in realizing my value, and that is why I am most proud.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Marshall because of the Business of Entertainment certificate provided in partnership with the School of Cinematic Arts. I am completely focused on transitioning into the media and entertainment industry, and it was important to me that I had a curriculum that would introduce me to the business side of the industry. While I have media internship experience from undergrad, the industry is completely different from when I studied, so I knew I needed classes to help bridge the gap. Also, taking classes through SCA opened up my network more with new professors and new classmates.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Dr. Shaun Harper is my favorite MBA professor. He teaches our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Business course, which has been my favorite class so far. It is so important to me to be an inclusive leader and to use business to rectify social issues. His class is the one dedicated to this pursuit, which makes me personally invested. He has an amazing aptitude for communicating tough topics without making people defensive, while also speaking truth to power. Additionally, he really has a way of connecting with and inspiring people when he speaks. I really admire him for that.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite MBA event was the Business of Entertainment Association’s annual trip to the Sundance Film Festival. Being able to travel with a large group of my classmates to see for ourselves how film festivals operate was absolutely amazing. It was an experience that allowed us to live out what we were learning about in class. Mostly, it reflected how close our business school community is. We helped each other throughout the process make it into difficult screenings and find the best events around town. And in our downtime, we really came together and connected over our shared passion for film.

What is the biggest myth about your school? When I was applying to schools, I remember being told that USC only has a presence in Southern California and not really a national reputation. That to me is the biggest myth. People alluded to the fact that the USC brand is not particularly respected nationally, but that has not been the experience I have seen. It is true that when I return to the south and tell people I go to USC, their first question is “Oh, University of South Carolina?” As soon as I explain that it is the University of Southern California though, their eyes light up and they are surprised at how big of a school I am attending. That gives me so much pride when that happens. I have that respect.

What surprised you the most about business school? What surprised me the most about business school (or at least at Marshall) is how collaborative everyone would be. You often hear how MBA programs can be overly competitive where students take advantage of others for their personal gain. That has not been my experience at all at Marshall. The way my classmates have supported me through this journey is not at all reflective of that stereotype, and I am made a better woman because of it.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I believe that the one thing I did during the application process that gave me an edge was really being focused and specific about the ways I would be involved in and contribute to the Marshall community. I really wanted the admissions committee to see how much I felt I fit at Marshall and accordingly realize that for themselves. It also showed my commitment, because I did a lot of research and wanted to show them that as well.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The MBA classmate who I most admire is Swetha Rajagopal. She is one of my Indian classmates, and we were both in the same core (core A) when we started school. I first started paying attention to Swetha because of the very insightful questions she would ask in class. Often times, she would articulate my own questions in a very intellectual way. I always appreciated her asking, and I feel like many times my own perspectives would change from her contributions. I got the chance to work with her on our PRIME consulting project, and I saw up close and personal her brilliance. However, for me, it is her love for her family, her dedication to education, and her desire to serve others that really makes her standout. As I have gotten to know her more personally over time, my admiration has only grown.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? It was very difficult to shift to a completely online environment after COVID hit. Personally, I struggled a lot with focusing in class when on Zoom with emails, texts and other communication constantly coming through on my laptop. Even though I have gotten used to that aspect of learning (my laptop now stays on do not disturb), the hardest part was not being able to see my classmates in person. We have such a small class and are tight, so not being able to see everyone and be as social as we normally are is what has been the most disruptive to my journey. I thought I would have more time to continue to build relationships, but that was taken away.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My first manager at Georgia-Pacific and mentor, Melissa Blunte, influenced me most to pursue business school. I already decided that I would go back and get my MBA at some point, but Melissa made sure I did not become content at work. Every time we had lunch to check in, she would always ask me when I was going back to get my MBA. She understood that it would get more difficult as I became secure in my lifestyle in Atlanta, so she constantly challenged me not to settle. There were times it annoyed me, but her support helped me lookout for the signs in my own life for going back to school. And when others thought the change was pretty drastic, she always gave me amazing perspective to keep pursuing my own dreams.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? The top two items on my professional bucket list are financing a film (hopefully an Oscar-winning film) and being a part of planning a live concert experience (likely a standalone show in support of a brand partnership).

What made Aria such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“One of Aria’s greatest skills is bringing people together, and in her leadership roles at USC Marshall she has excelled here. As she was stepping into her role as president of Black Graduate Business Leaders (BGBL), one of the first things she asked me was to connect her with staff in other Marshall graduate programs so that she could welcome and invite as many students as possible to join the BGBL community. Last summer, in the weeks following the murders of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, and so many others that sparked protests across the country and reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement, Aria was both quick and intentional in her response as a leader in the student community, recognizing the need for folks to be able to find support in community. She began offering Zoom calls that were open to not just current students, but BGBL alumni and friends as well. The response was truly impressive. Through a network of contacts and ongoing outreach, Aria was able to reconnect scores of MBA alumni – some of whom graduated many years ago – with the Marshall community.

Recently Aria and a team of second year MBA Consortium Fellows won the John R. Lewis Racial Justice MBA Case Competition, beating out 104 other teams.  This is another example of how she continues to make USC Marshall proud.”

Anne Ziemniak
Assistant Dean and Director
USC Marshall Full-Time MBA Program   



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